Sunday, December 28, 2014

Looking Back on the News and Brews of 2014

2014 has seen more changes to my brewery and brewing practice than just about any year since I started brewing. In part, this happened because I feel comfortable enough with the hobby--and that I'll be brewing for the long-term--to invest in more equipment. This in turn was enabled by a move into a new place that had a garage with utility sink, so I was able to get the operation out of the kitchen (with its various space, sanitation, and process limitations) and into a dedicated brewing area. More space meant more equipment...which meant more options for brewing! As a result, I feel like I have really grown and improved as a brewer. This has been challenging at times--the switch to all-grain was like learning to brew all over again! But, the challenges have been mostly fun and solvable; the best kinds of challenges to have.
A handy inscription on my mash tun
Major Changes in Technique / Equipment
  • Changing from partial volume to full volume boils. This was a relatively minor change in the grand scheme of things, but it did pave the way for all-grain brewing.
  • Transitioning into all-grain brewing. This is perhaps the largest and most enjoyable change. As mentioned above, in many ways it was like learning to brew all over again. New equipment, new things to worry about (or relax about). 
  • Improved temperature control. This change has allowed me to extend my brewing season, as well as ensure happier yeast during my previous "usual" brewing season (late fall through early spring).
  • Yeast starters. Where I had been relying largely on dry yeast, I am excited to expand into some new strains in the world of liquid yeast packaging.
  • Beginning the transition into kegging. As I finish out the year, I've been building a keezer setup, with anticipated "first draft" in the first week or two of the New Year.
Favorite Brews of 2014
  • Bonedigger Brown Ale. This may be the first recipe I've ever designed that turned out perfect on first try. I chalk it up to dumb luck, and will definitely put this into regular rotation!
  • Gondwana Pale Ale. This one took two iterations, but ended up as a nice showcase for Citra hops (my new favorite hop variety--it will be tough to hold back on overusing this one!).
  • Summer Blonde Ale. This ale was my first temperature-controlled brew, and ended up as a quite drinkable warm-weather concoction. This too is going into regular rotation!
Goals for 2015
  • Experiment with new ingredients--yeast, hops, and malts. I have worked a lot with "classics" such as crystal malt, basic American and British yeasts (e.g., Nottingham, various Chico strains, etc.), and Cascade hops. In the upcoming year, I would like to expand into some untouched territory.
  • Perfect kegging and in-keg carbonation of my homebrew, along with small-scale bottling from the keg. I'm thinking about building a bottling gun, just for fun.
  • Develop an in-house white IPA recipe. While I was traveling recently, I got a chance to try an amazing Italian white IPA (Lariano Vergött), and since then have been dreaming about devising one of my own.
  • Brew and/or develop more session beer recipes. Pretty much what it says.
  • Brew a lager. Now that I have good temperature control, I can start to think about lagers and pilsners. This opens up a whole new world of styles and techniques, of course. 
Summer Blonde Ale

Homebrew Roll Call (everything I brewed in 2014)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Andy's Pumpking Ale 1.0 Update

I only recently realized that I didn't post details on the fermentation and bottling of my pumpkin ale.

After brewing on 13 October 2014, and ~2 weeks of fermentation and conditioning, I bottled on 26 October 2014. Final gravity was 1.012, down from a starting gravirty of 1.060. This works out to 6.3% abv.

I primed a mini-keg (5 L) with 1.5 tbs. of corn sugar, and filled up the keg. I had 3.5 gallons left, and wanted to aim for 2.4 volumes of CO2. Thus, I carbonated with 3 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water. The end yield was 18 12-oz. bottles, 5 22-oz. bottles, and 6 18-oz. bottles.

After a few weeks of conditioning, I sampled some bottles. The beer is more carbonated than I like--I suspect this may be due in part to not stirring the beer sufficiently after adding the priming sugar. I also suspect some secondary fermentation is involved, due to the high carbonation in the keg, too.

I took a bottle to my local homebrew club meeting, and the brew overall got pretty decent marks from the crew. Our club president deemed it as nicely balanced, and I would tend to agree. This is definitely a recipe I'll be trying again!

A formal tasting evaluation will follow later.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout

This past week, some colleagues and I named a new dinosaur - Aquilops americanus. The name Aquilops means "eagle face", in honor of the animal's eagle-like beak. So, it only seemed appropriate to name this weekend's brew session Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout.

It has been a loooooong time since I have brewed an oatmeal stout. The last effort, back in 2010 during my extract days, was not a flawless fermentation but the end result was really darned good beer (just not a lot of it). My first attempt at an all-grain oatmeal stout is thus experimental territory!

Eagle Face Oatmeal Stout

  • 8.5 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 1 lb. 80° L crystal malt
  • 1 lb. Victory malt
  • 1 lb. flaked oats
  • 0.75 lb. chocolate malt
  • 0.5 lb. roasted barley
  • 0.5 lb. rice hulls
  • 1.25 oz. Northern Brewer hops pellets (8.5% alpha, 4.0% beta; adjusted for aging)
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • English Ale yeast - WLP002
  • On Thursday, December 11, I set up the yeast starter. As with my last starter, I used 172 grams of extra light dry malt extract in 1.5 L of water. This was boiled for 10 minutes, cooled, and then the yeast was pitched. True to the reputation of WLP002, it is indeed a highly floculant, fast-acting strain.
  • On brew day, Saturday, December 13, I milled all of the grains except the flaked oats and rice hulls. After milling, the oats and rice were added to the grains, which were in turn added to the mash tun.
  • I mashed in with 4.25 gallons of water at 176°. The overall mash stabilized at 156°.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 0.5 gallons of water at 180°. I let the mash settle for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.25 gallons of wort.
  • I then added 3.14 gallons of 185° water; the temperature of the resulting mash was a little too hot for my tastes (~174°), so I added 0.375 gallons of tap cold water. This brought the mash down to 166° or so. As before, I waited 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and drained the tun.
  • In total, I collected 6.85 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.048. This works out to ~74% efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and added the hops. After 45 minutes, I added 1 tsp. of Irish moss. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat and chilled the wort down to ~70°.
  • I transferred 5.75 gallons of wort into the fermenter, pitched the yeast, and put it in my fermentation chamber. The temperature was set to 68°. [because it is fairly cool this time of year, I have a small heating pad to help keep temperature up; what a reverse from the summer months!]
  • The starting gravity was 1.057 at 60°. The wort is sweet and quite dark--true to style!
  • When I checked on the beer nine hours after pitching the yeast, fermentation was cruising along quite nicely.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Beer Tasting: Bonedigger Brown Ale

My Bonedigger Brown Ale has turned into an absolutely delicious beer. Brown ales have a reputation as being fairly easy to brew, and I would agree overall. I am quite pleased that this has matured into one of my best all-grain beers yet (in my opinion).

  • I brewed this on 27 September 2014, bottled/kegged it on 11 October 2014, and sampled it on 3 December 2014. The sample described here was from a keg.
  • Basics
    • Starting gravity: 1.057; final gravity: 1.014; 5.7% abv
  • Aroma
    • Lightly malty; no hops detectable
  • Appearance
    • Head has good retention, fine to moderate tannish color. The beer itself is dark brown, with good clarity
  • Flavor
    • Flavor is pleasantly malty, with a slight chocolate/cocoa hint and finish; smooth and drinkable; hops are well-balanced with malt, not overly bitter.
  • Mouthfeel
    • Mouthfeel is smooth and almost creamy; body is nice--not overly thin but not overly thick, best described as medium; pretty balanced body overall; moderately carbonated as appropriate for style.
  • Would I brew this again?
    • As brown ales go, I would drink this again and brew it again in an instant! A really nice brew. I'll take this to my homebrew club meeting for their feedback, but at the moment I can't foresee changing much.
  • Overall rating
    • 9.5/10

Monday, October 13, 2014

Andy's Pumpkin Ale 1.0

In the continued quest to expand my brewing repertoire, while also focusing on styles that I like to drink (sorry, lambics and barleywines), today I took aim at a pumpkin ale. This was inspired by the efforts of my paleontological brewing colleague Penny Higgins, as well as by a recent issue of Brew Your Own (BYO) magazine.

Grinding the Cinnamon
The recipe itself was based on BYO's recipe for a Smuttynose Brewing Co. Pumpkin Ale clone. I tweaked the hops a bit based on my supply (and the desire not to open an extra bag if I didn't have to). Additionally, I decided to increase the amount of pumpkin over the original recipe; 4 oz. of puree just didn't seem like much, and I wanted a distinct pumpkin flavor. We had some homemade pumpkin puree in the deep freeze, so I thawed that out for this recipe.

So the spices...the recipe called for 0.14 oz. each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg, with a pinch of ground cloves. I grated up the appropriate amount of nutmeg from a fresh nut, and decided to grate up a stick of cinnamon bark too. However, after "grating" ended up more as "shredding", I elected to use the trusty mortar-and-pestle for the cinnamon as well as the cloves. The result was a whole pile of absolutely delicious smelling (and fresh!) spices.

Andy's Pumpkin Ale 1.0 (modified from Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale Clone)
  • 10.75 lbs. 2-row malt
  • 0.9 lbs. Carastan malt
  • 0.25 lbs. 60°L crystal malt
  • 12.5 oz. (0.78 lbs.) homemade pumpkin puree
  • 0.5 lbs. rice hulls
  • 1.25 oz. Cascade hops (whole; 75 minute boil)
  • 0.25 oz. Liberty hops (4.5% alpha, 3.5% beta; pellets; 15 minute boil)
  • 0.75 oz. Cascade hops (whole; 10 minute boil)
  • 0.75 oz. Liberty hops (4.5% alpha, 3.5% beta; pellets; added at flame-out)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (10 minute boil)
  • 0.14 oz. ground cinnamon bark
  • 0.14 oz. ground nutmeg
  • 2 cloves, ground
  • 1 vial California Ale yeast (White Labs #WLP001), in 1.5 L starter
  • 1 tbs. of 5.2 pH stabilizer
  • The day before brewing, I made up a yeast starter. See this post for details.
  • I added the rice husks to the mash tun, and then added the milled grains. I mashed in with 3.75 gallons of water at 172°. After this, the temperature was a little high (~160°), so I added an extra 0.25 gallons of cold tap water to bring the mash temperature down a bit, to 158°. After 10 minutes, the mash had stabilized to 154°, and to 150° after 60 minutes. Note to self--next let the mash sit a bit longer before worrying about lowering the temperature with cold water. I probably would have been okay without futzing with it.
  • I added 0.5 gallons of water at 195° and let it sit for 15 minutes. From this, I collected ~3.1 gallons of wort over 15 minutes. It had a delicious, sweet flavor--definitely pumpkin!
  • Then, I added 3.25 gallons of water at 186°, and let it sit for 15 minutes. The temperature was around 165°. Then, I collected the second runnings.
  • I collected a total of 6.5 gallons of wort, with a gravity of 1.051 at 60°. This works out to a mash efficiency of ~77%. I can live with that!
  • Once the wort was at a boil, I added the first round of Cascade hops. Additions proceeded per the schedule above.
  • Upon flame-out, I added the final addition of Liberty hops as well as the spices. I gave it a good stir, and let it sit for around 15 minutes.
  • Next, I cooled the wort using my chiller. I had recently read that siphoning ice water through the copper coil can help drop the wort the last few degrees needed for fermentation. So, I tried this trick, and it worked quite well! I was able to knock another 10° off the wort temperature at the end, quite quickly, down to 74°.
  • I pitched the yeast starter, which brought the volume in the fermenter up to 5 gallons exactly. Then, I placed the fermenter in my fermenting chamber, which is set at 68°.
  • The starting gravity is 1.060 (at 60°). I brewed this batch on 13 October 2014.
  • The wort is a gorgeous orangish color, with a distinct yet not overwhelming spice taste and aroma. I hope that this holds through fermentation!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Getting Started with Yeast Starters

Over the past year, I've been experimenting with several new techniques related to beer brewing. These include full-volume boils, temperature-controlled fermentation, and all-grain brewing. For my upcoming batch, a pumpkin ale, I decided to try my hand at making a yeast starter. This will allow me to use a wider variety of yeasts and also prepare for the eventuality of making lagers (which seem to pretty much require a starter).

The equipment is fairly simple: a 2-liter Erlenmeyer flask (pictured at left) and some aluminum foil.

The procedure itself is fairly simple, too. I boiled 172 g (~6 oz.) of extra light dry malt extract in 1.5 L of water for 10 minutes, to produce an unhopped wort with a gravity of ~1.040. I decanted the hot wort from the saucepan into the flask, which was capped with foil and plunged into an ice bath. After about 10 minutes, the container (and presumably the wort) were cool to the touch.

Once the wort was cooled, I pitched a tube of White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) yeast into the flask, shook it up, covered with sanitized foil, and set the flask in a relatively safe and warm corner. For this batch, I'm agitating (i.e., swirling) the mixture whenever I happen to be by the area, so roughly ever 30 to 60 minutes. If I have the time before my next brewing session (which probably won't be until late November or early December), I may build a stir plate.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bonedigger Brown Ale Bottled

Two weeks after brewing, tonight (11 October 2014) I bottled my Bonedigger Brown Ale. Although my usual practice is to transfer to a secondary, I decided to bottle directly from the primary fermenter. Although perhaps a little extra yeast might have made it into the bottles, I figured this wouldn't make the beer "out of style".

Upon transfer to the kegs and bottling bucket, I noted that the flavor is nice and smooth, with a definite hint of the Maris Otter malt that I used as a supporting character in the grist. This is going to be pretty delicious once carbonated, I think! At bottling time, the beer had a final gravity of 1.014, down from 1.057. This works out to 5.7% abv.

I primed two 5-L kegs with 1.5 tbs. corn sugar each, and filled them with beer. This left 2.2 gallons, which I primed with 1.8 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 1 cup water, to achieve carbonation of 2.4 volumes. The result was 6 22-oz. bottles, 2 18-oz. bottles, and 9 12-oz. bottles.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bonedigger Brown Ale

Things finally seem to be clicking along with my all-grain setup; I've got my mash tun properties dialed in, my grain mill configured, and everything else coming up aces. The all-grain learning curve is perhaps a bit frustrating, after feeling like I was so proficient at extract brewing, but it feels like the pay-off is finally here. I'm now getting consistent extract efficiency (thanks in large part to owning my own grain mill), and the beers are turning out quite tasty.

For today's brew session, I wanted to play with a style I haven't brewed previously: American brown ale. Looking back at the blog, I brewed a British-style nut brown from a kit a few years back, but that's it! I got some advice from Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers, and set up a recipe in BeerSmith. I was also inspired by a recent visit to Rök House Brewing Company, which had an incredibly tasty SMaSH ESB; on asking, I learned that the wonderfully malty flavor was courtesy of Maris Otter malt. So, I knew I had to incorporate that into my next recipe!

Bonedigger Brown Ale

  • 9 lbs. 2-row malt
  • 1 lb. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 0.75 lb. 80°L crystal malt
  • 0.5 lb. carapils malt
  • 0.5 lb. chocolate malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops, bittering (60 minute boil)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops, bittering (20 minute boil)
  • 0.5 oz. Willamette hops pellets, aroma (5.3% alpha; 3.7% beta; 5 minute boil)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (10 minute boil)
  • 1 pkg. US-05 Safale American Yeast
  • I mashed in with 3.75 gallons of water at 165°. This hit my target mash temperature of 153°. The mash ended at around 151-152°, an hour later.
  • After 60 minutes, I stirred in 0.82 gallons of water just below boiling temperature, and let this sit for 10 minutes. I collected ~3.1 gallons of first runnings.
  • Then, I added 3.14 gallons of water at 185°; the mash temperature stabilized at 168°. I let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • After the second runnings, I had collected 6.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.049. This works out to 75.7% efficiency.
  • I brought the wort to a boil, and added the hops as indicated. The wort boiled for a total of 60 minutes.
  • After flame-out, I cooled the wort to ~78° using my wort chiller, whirlpooled, rehydrated the yeast, and pitched the yeast. I will be fermenting this beer for 2 weeks at 65°.
  • Starting gravity is 1.057, with a total of 5.1 gallons of wort. I brewed this up on 27 September 2014.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone Bottled

After 12 days in the secondary fermenter, I bottled the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone on Friday, September 26. The yeast had settled out the rest of the way quite nicely, with a thin and compacted cake at the bottom of the carboy.

I elected to bottle the entire batch of beer, rather than kegging. Thus, I measured out 3.2 oz. of priming sugar; with ~4.75 gallons of beer, this works out to around 2.1 volumes of CO2 for the batch. The end result was 18 12-oz. bottles, 14 18-oz. bottles, and 6 22-oz. bottles.

At bottling, final gravity was unchanged from the last check, at 1.016. With a starting gravity of 1.060, this translates to 5.8% abv.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beer Update: Vaalbara Session IPA & Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone

Today was a bit of "housekeeping" with my two latest brews--one batch to bottle, one batch to transfer to the secondary fermenter.

Vaalbara Session IPA
After two weeks of dry-hopping, I was ready to bottle this batch. The final gravity was 1.011; with a starting gravity of 1.045, this works out to 4.6% abv. The flavor and aroma are both quite pleasant!

The final yield as two 5-L mini-kegs (each primed with 1.5 tbs corn sugar), 3 12-oz. bottles (primed with one carbonation drop each), and 2 22-oz. bottles (primed with two carbonation drops each). Given the small volume that was not kegged, I didn't feel the desire to mess around with corn sugar.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone
This beer has been in the primary for just over two weeks, so it was high time to move it to the secondary fermenter. The gravity is down to 1.016 from 1.060, or about 5.8% abv. Even better, it's delicious! The beer has a nice roasty flavor (thank you, roasted barley!), black color, and is very definitely a "robust" porter. I'm going to let it sit in the secondary fermenter for at least two weeks, at around 66°.

In other news...
I tapped one of the Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1 mini-kegs. The beer is quite tasty, with well-balanced hops and malts, as well as a fantastic Citra hop aroma. The recipe is a keeper! If I have any minor complaint at the moment, it is that the carbonation is a little lower than I might like. I suspect this is because the keg has been kept cool (~66°), so a few more weeks of conditioning and carbonation are in order for the other keg.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone

The past year has seen some major changes in my brew practices, most prominently in the transition from extract to all-grain. It has been fun to stretch my abilities and add new techniques to my toolkit, although not without its frustrations, either. There is a whole new learning curve to master! 

One of the toughest projects has been to master my mash efficiency. Where you can get really, really consistent gravities quite easily with extract (I would rate this as a big "plus" for extract brewing), I've found less consistency in my all-grain. From my reading and conversations with other brewers, "crush" hits the top of the list for improving efficiency. So, with that in mind, I purchased a two-roller mill from Monster Brewing Hardware. Their mills are pretty consistently well-rated, so it seemed wise to follow that reputation. It will be really nice to be able to control my crush more precisely--the local homebrew shop generally gave me good results, but now I can mill grains exactly to my home specs. This also makes it logistically easier to get big bags of my base malts (see photo). By buying in bulk, I can cut the per batch cost significantly.
It took me a bit to figure out what I wanted to brew for the first batch with my new mill. I had thought about a simple amber ale--but, I already have a fair bit of IPA and pale ale on hand (and apparently an amber ale is just a variant of a pale ale--makes sense, but I hadn't thought of it this way before!). So, a good porter seemed like a great alternative. It will round out my beer stock nicely.

After a bit of thought and searching, I elected to go for a clone recipe that I've tried versions of before. One of my favorite beers is the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, courtesy of Great Lakes Brewing. It's tough to find out in California, but I have had it a few times on tap or in the bottle when in the midwest or out east. For this batch, I stuck much closer to the original recipe from the North American Clone Brews book. The only mild variation was to have Cascade as strictly an aroma (steeping) hop at the very end, mainly because I forgot to pick up a little more at the store.

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Clone
  • 10.6 lbs. 2 row malt
  • 1 lb. 60°L crystal malt
  • 0.66 lb. chocolate malt
  • 0.66 lb. roasted barley
  • 0.70 oz. Northern Brewer hops pellets, bittering, first addition (9.9% alpha, 4.6% beta)
  • 0.75 oz. Willamette hops pellets, bittering, second addition (5.3% alpha, 3.7% beta)
  • 0.75 oz. Willamette hops pellets, bittering, third addition (5.3% alpha, 3.7% beta)
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops pellets, aroma, fourth addition (5.5% alpha, 6.0% beta)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 tbs. pH 5.2 stabilizer (for mash)
  • 1 pkg. Danstar Nottingham dry yeast (11 g)
  • I mashed in with 4.3 gallons of water at 172°. As measured 20 minutes later, the temperature was stabilized at 154°.
  • After 1 hour, the temperature was down to 152°. I added 0.75 gallons of water at ~185°, stirred, and let it sit for 10 minutes. From this, I collected ~3.1 gallons of wort. I did have a slightly stuck sparge (first time ever!) towards the end of the collection, but was able to unstick it by stirring the top of the mash slightly and blowing air up the tube.
  • Then, I added 3.25 gallons of water at 190°. After stirring, the mash stabilized at 168°. I let the mash rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 7.1 gallons of wort. I suspect I got so much because there was more wort left than usual in the first round of the batch sparge.
  • The 7.1 gallons of wort had a gravity of 1.046. This equals 72% mash efficiency.
  • Once the boil started, I added the Northern Brewer hops.
  • After 30 minutes, I added the first addition of Willamette hops. At this point, the wort volume was down to ~6.75 gallons.
  • After 60 minutes, I added the second addition of Willamette hops. Wort volume was down to ~6.2 gallons at this point
  • After 75 minutes, I added the Irish moss. Wort volume was down to 6 gallons at this point.
  • After 90 minutes, I added the Cascade hops, turned off the heat, and chilled the wort using my wort chiller.
  • It took ~30 minutes to chill the wort to 80°. I whirlpooled the wort, transferred it to the primary fermenter (with the Venturi pump in use for aeration), and pitched the rehydrated yeast. The beer was visibly bubbling within a little more than 12 hours.
  • The end result was 5 gallons of wort into the fermenter, with a starting gravity of 1.060 at 60°.
  • I am fermenting the beer at 65°. This batch was brewed on 30 August 2014.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beer Update: Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1, Vaalbara Session IPA

Last night (August 29), I bottled up the Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1 and transferred the Vaalbara Session IPA over to the secondary. Details are below.

Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1

  • This beer had been dry hopping for 12 days. It had a final gravity of 1.011, which works out to 4.7% abv.
  • I filled two mini-kegs, which were each primed with 1.5 tbs. of corn sugar. The remaining beer, totaling 1.9 gallons, was bottled and carbonated with 1.65 oz. of corn sugar to reach a target carbonation  of 2.5 volumes.
  • Total yield was 2 5-L kegs, 4 22-oz. bottles, 2 18-oz. bottles, and 8 12-oz. bottles.
  • This beer promises to be really nice -- a pretty clean flavor and just the Citra hops aroma I was aiming for.
Vaalbara Session IPA
  • After six days in the primary fermenter, I transferred the beer over to a secondary fermenter.
  • I racked the beer directly onto ~1.75 oz. of Cascade hops pellets, with approximately 3.75 gallons transferred. The carboy went into my temp-controlled fermenting freezer, set to 66°.
  • At the moment, the beer is fairly clear and perhaps a little green in flavor, but there is nothing "off" for flavors relative to what a beer should have at this point in fermentation. Gravity is 1.015, down from 1.045, which calculates to 3.9% abv. I will not be surprised if the gravity drops another point or two in the next two weeks before bottling.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vaalbara Session IPA

Continuing my series of pale ales and IPAs named after supercontinents, we are now on to Vaalbara Session IPA. Vaalbara is the theorized "first" supercontinent. It's an appropriate name, because in many ways I'm back to my brewing roots--relatively simple malt bill, and classic American hops. This recipe is modified from that of Oregon Original IPA, as published in North American Clone Brews. As a general aside about this book, it has some interesting recipes, which unfortunately often require a fair bit of tweaking to achieve stated gravity, etc. In any case, they provide inspiration.

My efficiency was rather low on this batch, and I will chalk it up to a abnormally coarse crush on the mill at my LHBS. Usually they are pretty good about staying on top of this, and I've never had an issue before, so I am guessing this is a fluke. While looking at the milled grains, I remember thinking, "Hmm, this looks kinda coarse." That's what I get for not listening to my gut. In any case, it has spurred me to look into getting a grain mill so that I have a little more control and consistency. Additionally, the low efficiency resulted in a lower-than-calculated starting gravity, so I changed the recipe title from "IPA" to "Session IPA".

Vaalbara Session IPA

  • 10 lbs. 2 row malt (2.0 SRM)
  • 1.5 lbs biscuit malt
  • 1 lbs. 20° crystal malt
  • 0.75 oz. Chinook hops pellets (bittering, first addition; 13.00% alpha, 3.4% beta)
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops pellets (bittering, second addition; 7.3% alpha, 5.3% beta)
  • 1.5 oz. Cascade hops pellets (dry-hopping; 7.3% alpha, 5.3% beta)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. Safale US-05 dry yeast (11 g)
  • I mashed in with 4 gallons of water at 164°. The mash was too low in temperature [note to self: continue to adjust properties for equipment in BeerSmith], so I added 2 quarts of boiling water, which when stirred in brought the mash up to 154° (stable still after 30 minutes).
  • I drained the mash tun, and added 3.25 gallons of water at 186 degrees. This stabilized the mash at 166°.
  • In total, I collected ~6.25 gallons of wort, with a starting gravity estimated at 1.037. This calculates out to 52% efficiency; probably so low due to a coarse crush.
  • I boiled the wort down for 30 minutes at a vigorous boil, to bump up the gravity a touch. By the end of this phase, I had approximately 5.5 gallons.
  • After 30 minutes, I added the Chinook hops (which thus had a total of 60 minutes boiling).
  • After another 30 minutes, I added 1 oz. of Cascade hops (which thus had a total of 30 minutes boiling). At this point, I had approximately 5.1 gallons.
  • After another 15 minutes, I added 1 tsp. of Irish moss (which thus had a total of 15 minutes boiling). I was down to ~4.6 gallons by this point.
  • After a total of 90 minutes of boiling, I turned off the heat and cooled the wort down to around 82° with my wort chiller.
  • I ended up with 4 gallons of wort in the primary fermenter. I pitched the yeast, and sealed up the whole thing. I will be fermenting at 66°.
  • I brewed the beer on Saturday, August 23. By the next morning, the fermenter was happily percolating along.
  • Starting gravity is 1.045 at 60°. This should work out to around 4.6% abv.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beer Tasting: Rodinia IPA

Tonight, I wanted to document my Rodinia IPA, brewed way back in April. I have only a few bottles left, so it's time to formally taste-test the beer.

Rodinia IPA

  • I brewed this on April 12, and bottled it on June 5, 2014.
  • Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.076; final gravity = 1.013; abv = 8.3%.
  • Appearance
    • Quite clear and dark straw color for the beer itself. The head has excellent retention; moderately fine bubbles, white color; thick and as desired for an IPA.
  • Aroma
    • Crisp and slightly sweet, with definite notes of white wine (as promised for the Nelson Sauvin hops used to dry-hopping!) and perhaps even kiwi.
  • Taste
    • Slowly developing bitterness, with lasting edge. Moderate body, but the hops character is much stronger than the malty character.
  • Would I brew this again? 
    • Maybe? It was an interesting to try the Nelson Sauvin hops for dry-hopping, and they behaved pretty much as described; in fact, surprisingly so. The actual white wine aroma was a nice novelty; I was somewhat surprised by the lack of piney or citrusy aroma on this, at least to my nose. That said, I think my overall personal tastes run more towards the citrus/pine end of hops, so although this is a decent enough beer on its own, I probably wouldn't brew it with this variety of hops again. Maybe as a blend with other dry hops, to add more complex character?
  • Overall rating
    • 6.5/10

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Beer Tasting: Summer Blonde Ale

The summer blonde ale is at its peak, turning out to be a pretty delightful brew. The full specs are below.

Summer Blonde Ale

  • I brewed this up on June 28, 2014, and bottled it on July 13. Thus, it has had about a month to condition. The sample I am evaluating here is from a bottle.
  • Basics
    • Original gravity = 1.046; final gravity = 1.008; abv = 5.0%.
  • Appearance
    • Clear, straw-colored
    • Head is white, fine, and low, with fair retention over the course of the sampling
  • Aroma
    • Clean and slightly malty
  • Taste
    • Clean and slightly malty; pleasant
    • A subtle hops finish
    • Good balance between hops and malt
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Absolutely! This is perhaps one of the best all-grain beers I've done to date, and it is perfect for sipping on warm summer evenings. As near as I can tell, the recipe (and this batch) nails the style quite squarely, and is very much to my taste. I don't know that there is much, if anything, that I would change; maybe up the malt and hops ever-so-slightly, but that's about it. Probably a bad idea to mess with a good thing.
  • Overall rating: 8/10

Beer Update: Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1

Today I transferred the Gondwana Pale Ale over to the secondary fermenter, following 9 days of primary fermentation. Some highlights:

  • Gravity is 1.012 at 60 degrees, down from 1.048. This works out to 4.7% abv and apparent attenuation of 74%.
  • I racked the beer onto 2 oz. of Citra hops pellets (14.5% alpha, 3.9% beta), and plan a solid 2 weeks of dry hopping before bottling/kegging.
  • In total, 5 gallons of beer was transferred; there was about 0.25 gallons of trub, and another 0.25 gallons of stuff that was just too murky to bother with.
  • The sample is tasted has a slight whiff of Citra hops, presumably from the late addition during the boil. This is quite nice! As with the first version of this recipe, there is a very slight vegetal/off-malty after-taste. Because I haven't really had this with my other all-grain recipes, I wonder if it is something inherent to the malts I used (maybe the Vienna malt?). In any case, the aroma was very transient in the last batch, and is much fainter by comparison in this batch, so I am not too worried.
  • I set the fermenting chamber (i.e., temperature controlled freezer) to 64 degrees, up 2 degrees from the primary fermentation. I may raise it again slightly later this week.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Beer Tasting: El Dorado Amber Ale

I've been reasonably good at documenting my brewing process (hence this blog), but haven't done as much for recording the resulting product. This post is a first attempt at formalizing personal evaluations of my homebrew.

  • I brewed this up on March 31, and bottled it on April 27. Thus, it has had a little over three months to condition. The sample I'm evaluating here was from a mini-keg. The character of the beer has changed somewhat from first sampling; definitely a little more mellow in the aroma (a good thing).
  • Appearance
    • Medium amber color. Clear, with only a minor chill haze.
    • Nice head with good head retention
  • Aroma
    • Modestly malty, with a very minor hops aroma
    • When I sampled this beer a month or two ago, the hops aroma was fairly strong and spicy/herbal. Not at all what I expected, especially for how El Dorado hops was described.
  • Taste
    • A moderately malty flavor, but not overly so. There is a modest bitterness, but not too much so.
    • The finish is smooth with a slight caramel flavor, and nicely hoppy
    • Carbonation is moderate; about right for this style of beer
  • Would I brew this again?
    • Overall, this has turned into a decent beer, but not my very best. Particularly in its earlier days, I didn't really care for how the dry-hopped El Dorado aroma came through; far more vegetal than I was expecting, and very little if any of the promised citrus/fruity notes. It wasn't unpleasant, necessarily, just not to my personal taste. I was a little unimpressed by how the El Dorado hops worked for this beer; I might try them for bittering again, but not for dry hopping.
    • All in all, I'm going to test a few other amber ale recipes.
  • Overall rating: 5/10

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gondwana Pale Ale 1.1

Back in March, at the start of my all-grain brewing, I brewed up Gondwana IPA. The resulting beer turned out unexpectedly tasty, and hooked me on Citra hops (especially for dry-hopping). Because I was still figuring out my techniques at the time, my mash efficiency was a little low (~57%), and the result was closer to a pale ale than a traditional IPA in some respects. Thus, I retooled the original recipe as a pale ale, cutting back some of the malt and utilizing Citra as the only hops for the brew. As before, I want a prominent hops aroma, so this beer will get a nice dry-hopping.

Gondwana Pale Ale (version 1.1)
  • 9 lbs. 2 row malt
  • 1 lb. Vienna malt
  • 0.5 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 0.5 lb. 40° crystal malt
  • 1 oz. Citra hops (bittering, first addition; pellet form; 14.5% alpha, 3.9% beta)
  • 1 oz. Citra hops (bittering, second addition)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. Safale American dry yeast (US-05, 11 g)
  • 2 oz. Citra hops (dry hopping)
  • First, I preheated the mash tun with 9 gallons of water that was as hot as possible from the tap.
  • In my brew pot, I heated 14 quarts of water to 170°. I added the milled grains to the mash tun with 1 tbs. of pH 5.2 stabilizer, and mashed in. The temperature stabilized at 154°. After 30 minutes, the temperature was 153°.
  • After 60 minutes, added 1 gallon of water at 185°, and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. I drained the tun, extracting ~2.9 gallons of wort.
  • Next, I added 3.2 gallons of water at 195°. This raised the mash temperature to ~175°, a little warmer than I wanted. So, I added 1 quart (.25 gallons) of ice cubes. This dropped the temperature down to 168°. I let the mix sit for 10 minutes before draining.
  • I collected a total of 6.7 gallons of wort, with a preboil gravity of 1.043. This works out to a mash efficiency of ~73%.
  • I heated the wort to boiling, aiming for a total of 60 minutes at boil. After 30 minutes, I added the first addition of hops.
  • After 50 minutes, I added the Irish moss.
  • After 58 minutes, I added the second addition of hops.
  • After 60 minutes of boiling, I turned off the heat, removed the hops (they were all bagged), and chilled the wort to ~80°.
  • Once the wort was chilled, I transferred it to the primary fermentation vessel. Along the way, it was oxygenated using my Venturi pump.
  • The yeast was rehydrated in 2 cups of preboiled water at ~90°, and pitched into the wort.
  • Starting gravity was 1.048 at 60 degrees, with ~5.3 gallons of wort. I can probably expect around 5% abv in the end.
  • The beer is fermenting at 64°; after 1 week I will transfer it to the secondary fermenter and dry-hop for 2 weeks, prior to bottling.
  • Total ingredient cost for this was $27.65. Assuming around a 5 gallon yield in the end, the cost per 12-oz. bottle will be around $0.55.
  • In order to maximize extract efficiency, I have been using a double crush on the mill at my local homebrew shop. Based on a visual inspection of the milled grain, and on conversations with the owner, I decided to try just a single pass through the mill this time. Based on my efficiency, that was an okay decision.
  • In the past, I had been a little frustrated by trying to raise the temperature of the grain bed during the second collection of wort. Thus, I tried adding much hotter water (~195°) than recommended by BeerSmith (168°), and got much better results both in terms of temperature as well as mash efficiency. There was a little fiddling to keep the temperature below 170°, so I might aim for around 185° to 190° next time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Blonde Ale Bottled

Success! My experiment with summer brewing (using a temperature-controlled freezer) has gone well, so last night I bottled my summer blonde ale. Here are the stats:
  • I fermented it from June 28 to July 7 at 62°. I didn't see quite as much krausen as I'm used to, but I suspect that is because of the lower temperatures and thus a less vigorous fermentation.
  • On July 7, I raised the temperature to 64°, so that the yeast could clean up any stray diacetyl.
  • I bottled on July 12. Final gravity was 1.008, down from a starting gravity of 1.046. This works out to 5.0% abv, and an apparent attenuation of 82% (right in line with the expectations for the yeast, Safale-05).
  •  I kegged 5 L in a mini-keg, with 1.5 tbs. of corn sugar.
  • The remainder (3.75 gallons) was bottled. I wanted a target carbonation of 2.5 volumes, which worked out to 3.1 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water.
  • Bottling yield was 22 12-oz, 6 18-oz Grolsch, and 4 22-oz. bottles.
The flavor was somewhat malty with a touch of hops bitterness (but not overly bitter). No off flavors were detected, thankfully. The beer is hazy in appearance, but not overly so. I expect this will settle out during conditioning and refrigeration.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Summer Blonde Ale

One of the primary limitations of brewing in southern California is the weather...there is a short window indeed where ambient air temperature--even in a basement--is within the happy zone for ale yeast. You can brew when it's warmer, of course, but there is more danger of off-flavors developing (well, unless it's a are the default there). So, I've been mostly limited to brewing between November and March, with maybe a little wiggle room on either end. It also meant I had to get as much brewing as possible during that window, to have a good supply for the long summer months.

Well, those days are now at an end. The parents shipped me a Ranco temperature controller for my birthday, which regulates a fridge or freezer into appropriate fermentation temperatures. I bought a cheap 7 cubic foot chest freezer, hooked it all up, and now I'm ready to go! First up...a good, drinkable summer blonde ale. This recipe is ever-so-slightly modified from one that originally appeared in BYO.

Summer Blonde Ale
  • 10 lbs. 2-row pale malt
  • 8 oz. 20° crystal malt
  • 1 oz. Willamette hops pellets
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. (11 g) Safale American US-05 yeast
  • I preheated the mash tun and added the grains with 1 tbs. of 5.2 pH stabilizer.
  • I mashed in with 3.25 gallons of water at 165°. I adjusted the water slightly by adding 1 gallon distilled water (and another gallon when I did the sparge).
  • The mash temperature stabilized at 152.3°, was down to 151.5° within 30 minutes, and was at 149° after 60 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 1.08 gallons of water at 170°, stirred, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I then decanted ~3.15 gallons of wort.
  • I added 3.14 gallons of water at 170°, stirred, and let it sit for 10 minutes. This raised the temperature of the mash to 160°.
  • In the end, I collected 6.5 gallons of wort. Pre-boil gravity was 1.040, which works out to around 67.5% mash efficiency.
  • After heating the wort to a boil, I added the hops pellets and boiled the wort for 60 minutes. 10 minutes prior to flame-out, I added the Irish moss.
  • I cooled the wort down to ~78°, and transferred it to the carboy. Total volume is 5 gallons. 
  • After rehydrating the yeast in 1 cup of water, I pitched it and sealed up the fermenter.
  • In order to gain a clean flavor profile, I'll be fermenting at ~62°. The plan is to ferment for around a week before bottling. Starting gravity was 1.046.
  • The beer was brewed and yeast pitched on Saturday, June 28. By the next morning, visible fermentation had started.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Beer Updates: El Dorado Amber Ale, Rodinia IPA

Mopping up some loose ends from the brewing season...

El Dorado Amber Ale
  • After 20 days of dry-hopping, I bottled this on April 27.
  • Final gravity was 1.010 at 60 degrees; down from 1.053 original gravity, this works out to 5.6% abv.
  • Total yield was 2 mini-kegs (5 L), 15 12-oz. bottles, and 2 22-oz. bottles. The former was carbonated with 1.5 tbs. of corn sugar each; the latter with carbonation drops.

Rodinia IPA
  • It took almost 2 days before I saw activity in the primary fermenter. I suspect this was a combination of high gravity and a slow start typical for the BRY-97 yeast strain.
  • After 15 days in the primary fermenter, I transferred this to the secondary fermenter on 27 April 2014. Gravity at this point was 1.022, down from 1.076.
  • I let the beer sit in the primary for around 3 weeks, and added 1 oz. of Nelson Sauvin hops on Sunday, May 18, for dry-hopping.
  • Bottling day was June 5, so I had a total of 18 days dry-hopping. Gravity at this point was 1.013 at 60 degrees, working out to a final abv of 8.3%.
  • I ended up with 3.5 gallons of beer. This was primed with 3 oz. of corn sugar dissolved in 2 cups of water, to reach a target of 2.5 volumes CO2.
  • I sampled a bottle after a week; it is shaping up quite nicely. The aroma is sweet and quite reminiscent of the white wine aroma I expected for Nelson Sauvin hops. Taste so far is pleasantly bitter with just a touch of sweetness (the hops again, I think).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beer Updates: El Dorado Amber Ale, California Vanilla Porter, Gondwana IPA

Over the past two weeks, there has been some action on various batches. This is all summarized below.

  • On April 7, one week after brewing, I transferred the El Dorado Amber Ale over to the secondary fermenter. Gravity at this point was 1.014, down from 1.053; this equals 6.5% abv and 72.6% apparent attenuation.
  • I added 0.5 oz. of El Dorado hops pellets, aiming for two weeks of dry hopping prior to bottling
  • After seven days of vanilla beans in the secondary fermenter, this beer was ready to bottle. I recently got a second-hand set of "PhilTap" minikegs (thanks, Dad!), and this was the first batch to get the PhilTap treatment, along with the Gondwana IPA.
  • At bottling, gravity was 1.014, down from 1.064. This indicates 6.6% abv and 77.0% apparent attenuation.
  • The kegs were each carbonated with 1.5 tbs of corn sugar. The remaining 1.9 gallons were carbonated with 1.65 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 0.5 cup of water (target carbonation=2.6 volumes).
  • The total yield for this batch was: 2 5-L mini-kegs, 11 12-oz bottles, 3 22-oz. bottles, and 1 16-oz. grolsch bottle.
  • After 17 days of dry hopping with 2 oz. of Citra hops pellets, this beer was ready to package. As I was transferring it out, I was hit with a fantastic hops aroma - a fantastic bouquet of passionfruit with a little citrus. These also held up in the tasting.
  • At bottling, gravity was 1.008, down from 1.047. This equals 5.1% abv, and an apparent attenuation of 82.3%.
  • The kegs were carbonated with 1.5 tbs of corn sugar. The remaining 1.5 gallons was primed with 1.45 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 0.5 cup water.
  • The total yield for this batch was 2 5-L mini-kegs, 8 12-oz bottles, 2 22-oz. bottles, and 1 16-oz. Grolsch bottle.
  • After a week, I tapped one of the mini-kegs. The result is beautiful! The hops aroma is still fantastic, although the beer doesn't have a lot of body (not surprising given the high fermentability). Even so, the flavor is quite clean, which is nice after my early worries.
Gondwana IPA, first pour from the mini-keg

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rodinia IPA

For one of the last batches of the "season", I opted for another all-grain IPA. This was a chance to try out a few new ingredients as well as a new recipe style. For my first IPA of the brewing season (an extract beer), I found that it ended up a little too sweet for my tastes. Some reading suggested that crystal malt could be behind this (although I only had 8 oz. in that recipe--on the other hand, it was fairly high gravity, too, at 1.070 s.g., but most of my extract IPAs have been on the sweet side). So, I decided to try a crystal-free recipe.

Additionally, I've been wanting to try some new hops varieties. The owner of my local homebrew shop said they had something called Nelson Sauvin in stock, and he had been wanting to try it too. That was good enough for me, so into my recipe it went! Pretty much everywhere I read said, "No equivalents" for substitutions...and the variety is usually described as having "white wine" character, so that sounded like an awesome dry hopping opportunity. I also wanted to use up some of the partial bags of hops pellets in my freezer, so Northern Brewers and Nugget went into the kettle too. With the mix of hops origins (New Zealand, Europe, and North America), and with my tradition this year of naming batches after various supercontinents, "Rodinia IPA" seemed appropriate.

Rodinia IPA
  • 13 lbs. pale malt
  • 2 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.95 oz. Northern Brewers hops pellets (8.5% alpha) - 60 minutes boil
  • 1.4 oz. Nugget hops pellets (14.0% alpha) - 20 minutes boil
  • 1 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops pellets (12.0% alpha) - 1 minute boil
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (10 minutes boil)
  • 1 pkg. BRY-97 American West Coast Yeast (Danstar - 11 g)
  • 1 oz. Nelson Sauvin hops pellets (12.0% alpha) - 14 days dry hop
  • I mashed in with 4.75 gallons of water to achieve a temperature of ~153° (which stabilized here about 15 minutes in). By the end of the mash, the temperature was at 150°. I collected 3 gallons of wort, and sparged with 3.25 gallons of water at 170°. From this, I collected 3.4 gallons of wort.
  • In total, I collected 6.4 gallons of wort, with a preboil gravity of 1.061. This works out to 71.3% efficiency--not too bad!
  • I heated the wort to boiling, planning for a 90 minute total boil with successive hop additions. The Northern Brewer hops were boiled for 60 minutes, Nugget hops for 20 minutes, and Irish moss for 10 minutes. An ounce of Nelson Suavin was added a minute before flame-out.
  • Using my wort chiller, I chilled the wort down to 70°, whirlpooled, and let it sit for 15 minutes. During this time, I rehydrated the yeast.
  • I transferred the wort to the primary fermenter. This resulted in 4.3 gallons, with a starting gravity of 1.076. This is quite a bit higher than expected (1.071 from BeerSmith)--I suspect the reason is because I ran a very vigorous boil. From the 6.4 gallons of originally collected wort, and assuming the typical 0.5 gallon of sludge left behind in the kettle, that's a total of 1.6 gallons boiled off over the 90 minutes. BeerSmith had only assumed 0.75 gallons (0.5 gallons/hour), so I might need to adjust that in the future.
  • I pitched the yeast immediately before sealing up the primary fermenter (a carboy). 24 hours on, I'm not seeing any visible fermentation activity. I'm not entirely sure if this is due to the relatively high gravity of the wort, or if it is a character of BRY-97. My past batches with this yeast have also been slow to start, and this also was mentioned on other sources. In any case, if I don't see activity within 48 hours from the initial pitch, I'll probably repitch the yeast.
  • This batch was brewed on 12 April 2014. At this writing, the beer is at about 65° for the primary fermentation.

Monday, March 31, 2014

El Dorado Amber Ale

Now having an all-grain amber ale, IPA, and porter under my belt, I decided to try another all-grain amber ale. I based this recipe off of Amarillo Amber Ale from BYO magazine. I made some small substitutions for what was available at my local (and awesome) homebrew store, primarily in switching up the Weyermann malts with approximate equivalents. I also ended up using El Dorado and Nugget for the hops (they had just run out of Amarillo!). As I designed this recipe in BeerSmith, I was super excited to try a whole bunch of new grains and hops.; this sort of beer geekery is why I got into homebrewing! And even better, this was my most successful all-grain brewing session. I scored 75% efficiency, my best to date.

El Dorado Amber Ale
  • 9.3 lbs. Best Malz Pilsen malt
  • 0.25 lbs. aromatic malt
  • 0.25 lbs. 40° crystal malt
  • 0.25 lbs. carastan malt
  • 0.25 lbs. caravienne malt
  • 0.1875 lbs. chocolate malt
  • 1 tbs. 5.2 pH stabilizer
  • 0.5 oz. Nugget hops pellets (14.4% alpha acid) - 30 minutes boil
  • 0.5 oz. El Dorado hops pellets (15% alpha acid) - 10 minutes boil
  • 0.5 oz. El Dorado hops pellets (15% alpha acid) - 5 minutes boil
  • 0.5 oz. El Dorado hops pellets (15% alpha acid) - 14 days dry hop
  • 1/2 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. SafAle English Ale Yeast S04
  • Add 1 tbs. of 5.2 pH stabilizer to grist
  • Add 13.5 quarts of water at 170° to grist in mash tun, for target temperature of 152°. The temperature stabilized here within 5 minutes, and only dropped 1 degree over the entire 60 minutes of mashing.
  • Mash for 60 minutes, add 1 gallon of water at 170°. I collected 3.5 gallons of runnings.
  • Next, I added 3.1 gallons of water at 170°. The temperature settled at 160°. I let the mash tun sit for 10 minutes, and then I collected 3.4 gallons of runnings. This totaled 6.9 gallons of wort collected; with a gravity of 1.042, I calculate 75% efficiency for my mash.
  • Because I had collected such a volume of wort, I elected to boil for a total of 90 minutes. Once I had the wort to a boil, it boiled for 60 minutes before the first hop addition.
  • At 60 minutes, I added 0.5 oz. Nugget hops pellets.
  • At 75 minutes, I added the Irish moss.
  • At 80 minutes, I added 0.5 oz. of El Dorado hops pellets.
  • At 85 minutes, I added 0.5 oz. of El Dorado hops pellets.
  • At 90 minutes, I removed the pot from the heat, and began cooling it with my wort chiller.
  • It took around 30 minutes to cool the wort to 75°. From here, I transferred the wort to my primary fermenter.
  • I proofed the yeast in 1 cup of 85° degree water, and pitched it. The space where I am fermenting is about 65° ambient temperature--perfect for this yeast strain.
  • I collected 5 gallons of wort, with a starting gravity of 1.053 (at 60°). Once I had adjusted the mash efficiency in BeerSmith for my system, I was exactly on the nose for o.g. This will potentially yield ~5.2% abv.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beer Updates: California Vanilla Porter, Gondwana IPA, Fake Tire 3.0

I haven't done a brewing session in two weeks (life has been busy!), but I have been dabbling in a few other beer-related activities. These are outlined below.

Fake Tire Amber Ale
The Fake Tire 3.0 Amber Ale was bottled on March 23. Final gravity was 1.008; with a starting gravity of 1.045, this means I have 4.8% abv. I added 3.5 oz. of corn sugar dissolved in 2 cups of water. The total yield was 11 12-oz bottles, 7 22-oz bottles, and 8 16-oz bottles (grolsch).

Gondwana IPA
As noted before, this beer has had a bit of a roller coaster of flavors that has finally evened out on the positive side. On March 19, I added 2 oz. of Citra pellet hops for dry hopping. After these have had a full two weeks in the fermenter, I will bottle.

California Vanilla Porter
In order to achieve the eponymous vanilla flavor for this porter, I cut up and scraped 4 Madagascar vanilla beans and then soaked all of them in 2 oz. of vodka. They soaked for 10 days, and generated a really tasty and nice-smelling extract. Today, I finally got to transferring the porter from the primary fermenter into the secondary (after 15 days--the beer was brewed on March 15, and transferred on March 30). The beer is quite tasty, and weighs in at 1.014. Down from 1.064, that means the beer weighs in at 6.4% abv. Right before I sealed up the secondary, I tossed in the vanilla extract (plus pods). I figure I will bottle this in about a week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

California Vanilla Porter

California Vanilla Porter
  • 5 lbs. US pale malt (2 row)
  • 5 lbs. Maris Otter pale malt
  • 1 lbs 60° crystal malt
  • 1 lbs. Vienna malt
  • 0.75 lb. chocolate malt
  • 0.5 lb. carapils malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (60 minutes bittering)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (30 minutes bittering)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (15 minutes boil)
  • 1 pkg. Danstar Nottingham yeast
  • 4 Madagascar vanilla beans (cut up and soaked in a 2 ounces of vodka), added to the secondary
  • I added a tablespoon of 5.2 pH stabilizer to the grist prior to mashing in, to help counteract previously suspected pH problems.
  • Mash in with 16.8 quarts of water at 170°. This resulted in a mash that stabilized at 153° within 10 minutes. The temperature was down to 152° by 30 minutes, and 151° by 60 minutes.
  • After 60 minutes, I added 0.5 gallons of water at 170°, and collected the first runnings. The gravity from these was 1.074 (at 60°).
  • I then added 3 gallons of water at 170°, stirred the mash, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I collected the rest of the wort for a total starting volume (pre-boil) of 6.25 gallons. The gravity at the start of the boil was 1.052 (at 60°), indicating a mash efficiency of around 70%.
  • I started the boil, adding 1 oz. of whole Cascade hops. After 30 minutes, I added an additional ounce of whole Cascade hops. For the final 15 minutes, I added 1 tsp. of Irish moss.
  • I cooled the wort down to 78° using my cooling coil, which took ~25 minutes.
  • I pitched the rehydrated yeast. Fermentation had visibly started within 12 hours.
  • Starting gravity was 1.064 at 60°; approximately 4.85 gallons of wort were in the fermenter.
  • I plan to add the vanilla to the secondary fermenter.
  • This is the first all-grain batch for which I feel like things went fairly smoothly--finally a decent mash efficiency (I suspect I fixed a lingering pH issue), and a good batch of wort at the end.
  • This beer was brewed on Saturday, March 15.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Laurasia IPA Bottled, Gondwana IPA Update

After a week of dry-hopping with 2 oz. of Simcoe hops pellets, I bottled the Laurasia IPA (8 March 2014). The gravity was unchanged from last check, at 1.020, resulting in a final abv of 6.5%. I added 4 oz. of corn sugar boiled in 1 cup of water. The final volume in the bottling bucket was 4.5 gallons, yielding 15 12-oz bottles, 13 18-oz. Grolsch bottles, and 6 22-oz. bottles.

I transferred the Gondwana IPA to the secondary fermenter on 9 March 2014. The gravity measured 1.010, down from 1.047, yielding an abv of 4.8%. Somewhat distressingly, there was a bit of a vegetal aroma and flavor to the beer; this had come off strong after the mash, but disappeared after the boil. With the aroma's reappearance, I was worried that I would have to toss out the beer. But, I rechecked a week later (16 March 2014), and the beer tasted and smelled just fine. A good argument for patience!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Fake Tire 3.0 and Laurasia IPA updates

On Thursday, February 27, I transferred the Fake Tire 3.0 (my first all-grain batch) over to the secondary fermenter. The gravity was down to 1.006, which works out to 5.1% abv. This is certainly the most I've ever had a beer ferment out, and I suspect this was due to the unintentionally low mash temperature.

On Saturday, March 1, I added 2 oz. of Simcoe hops pellets to the Laurasia IPA, for dry hopping.

Gondwana IPA

After my first experimental all-grain batch, I decided to refine my technique further and attempt an IPA this time. The previous batch had issues with temperature control and poor mash efficiency. The former was resolved by insulating the cooler lid with spray-foam and preheating the cooler/tun with hot water, as well as waterproofing my thermometer leads with silicone tape. I attempted to resolve the second issue by double-milling the grain at the local homebrew store as well as by improving temperature control as noted. Temperature control was much improved, although my efficiency still isn't where I want it to be (~57% mash efficiency). In any case, brewing science marches on.

Gondwana IPA
  • 9.5 lbs. pale malt (2 row US)
  • 1 lb. Vienna malt
  • 0.5 lb. cara-pils malt
  • 0.5 lb. 40° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lb. 20° crystal malt
  • 3 oz. Cascade whole hops (bittering)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (late addition aroma, 5 minutes before flame-out)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (last 15 minutes of boil)
  • 1 package of Safale American Yeast (US-05)
  • 2 oz. Citra hops pellets (dry hop)
  • Mash-in with 15.4 quarts of water at 173°. I stirred once, after 30 minutes. The mash temperature ended at 154° after 60 minutes. The mash ended up at about 75 minutes, due to the time required to heat the sparge water.
  • I sparged with 0.62 gallons of water at 170°, stirred, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I collected 2.78 gallons before the tun ran out of liquid. I then sparged with 3.22 gallons of water at 170°, stirred, let it sit for 15 minutes, and decanted. This round collected 3.34 gallons.
  • In total, I collected 6.12 gallons of wort, with a gravity of 1.040 at 60°. This equals a mash efficiency of 56.7% as calculated by BeerSmith.
  • I heated the wort to boiling and added the 3 oz. of whole Cascade hops. At the 45 minute mark, I added the Irish moss. At the 55 minute mark, I tossed in the final Cascade addition.
  • It took about 25 minutes to get the wort down to 70°, using the wort chiller. I then whirlpooled the wort and let it sit for 20 minutes before transferring to the fermenter.
  • In the end, I had 4.75 gallons of wort with a starting gravity of 1.047 at 60° This is a bit lower than conventional style for an IPA, but I figure that is just par for the course as I figure out this new mode of brewing.
  • I pitched the yeast, and left the beer to ferment at an ambient temperature of ~62°.

  • Mash efficiency is still lower than I like; next time I might aim for hotter sparge water to mobilize more of the sugars, and I will probably adjust my grain bill to compensate for a lower efficiency. I'll give it another try or two, but I am wondering if the crack I'm getting from the mill at the local homebrew supply is too coarse.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yikes and Away! Diving into All-Grain Brewing (with Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0)

With a whole bunch more brew space, and over five years of solo brewing under my belt(!), I've been rapidly diversifying from the tried-and-true partial volume, extract with steeping grains, brews. The quality (in my humble opinion) on many of these beers has been pretty good (the Rainy Day IPA, Vanilla Voay Porter, and Fake Tire Amber Ale being particularly successful), but I do feel like I've gotten the handle of many aspects of extract brewing. I'm looking for a bit of a challenge and to expand my brewing skill set. The first step was full-volume boils, and the logical next step was to try all-grain. But, I had been a little intimidated by the complexity of the all-grain setups I had seen. Three-part towers, hoses everywhere, sparge arms, and the like seemed like a lot of equipment investment just to try a new technique. But then I learned about batch-sparging. Basically, all I would need was a converted cooler. Done and done!

With a converted 10 gallon cooler (ball valve and screen installed at the bottom), I was ready to go. I thought a good first beer would be to try a new iteration of my amber ale.

Fake Tire Amber Ale 3.0
  • 7.5 lbs pale malt (2 row)
  • 0.5 lbs. Victory malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Munich malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 40° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. 20° crystal malt
  • 0.5 lbs. Cara-Pils malt
  • 0.25 lbs. chocolate malt
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (60 minute boil)
  • 1 oz. Cascade whole hops (5 minute boil)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast US-05
  • Mash in ~13 qts. of water at 165° with malt for 1 hour. This resulted in a temperature of 154 degrees within 5 minutes, but it ended up at 145° by the end of the hour.
  • Decanted liquid, added 1 gallon of water, brought temperature up to 146°.
  • Decanted liquid, added 3 gallons water, brought temperature to 148°.
  • Decanted liquid, which had a specific gravity of 1.034 at 60 degrees. The volume in the kettle was around 5 gallons.
  • Heated to boil, added first addition of Cascade hops, boiled for 45 minutes, added Irish moss, boiled for another 10 minutes, added second addition of Cascade hops.
  • After the 60 minute boil, I turned off the flame and chilled the wort to around 70 degrees.
  • I transferred the wort to the fermenter, and pitched the yeast (which had been rehydrated in 1 cup of water). The wort fermented at ~68°.
  • The starting gravity was 1.045 at 60°, with a starting volume of 4 gallons.
This was definitely a learning experience! I had done a fair bit of reading on all of this, but even so there were a few bumps along the way. For starters, I learned that my "trusty" digital thermometer reads about 20° too low! This happened hard way when I mashed the grains to discover a ridiculously low-gravity wort--perhaps 1.020. A little investigation with other thermometers revealed that my main digital thermometer had a bad sensor (maybe from moisture?). In any case, I tossed that wort and started over. It sucks to have wasted the time and materials, but it was a useful lesson.

Even after all of that, my efficiency in sugar extraction was still not great (~50%, where I should be hitting ~70% at least). I attribute this in part to the fairly low temperatures that the mash ended at (145°, on the very lowest end of where I should be). Next time, I am going to preheat my cooler/mash tun to mitigate some cooling. I also pulled off all of the "liquor" after each water addition, which I later realized I shouldn't, I will aim for pulling off equal amounts of liquor next time, rather than draining the whole thing.

Despite all of that, I am eager to improve my technique and make the next batch. The amber ale really took off in the fermenter, and should be ready to go to the secondary very soon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Peter's Irish Red Ale Bottled

Tonight I bottled Peter's Irish Red Ale, with a yield of nine 16 oz. bottles, nine 22 oz. bottles, and 15 12 oz. bottles. The beer had been in the secondary fermenter for about a month, and fermented down to a final gravity of 1.012. From a starting gravity of 1.037, this works out to 3.3% abv.

Laurasia IPA Updates

On February 16, I transferred the Laurasia IPA over to the secondary fermenter. At that time, the gravity was 1.029; the taste was clean, a faint fruity aroma before CO2 outgases, and a very mellow hoppiness. I was surprised at the relatively high gravity and the apparently slow fermentation--perhaps due to underoxygenation? Or maybe due to the yeast strain?

I sampled the beer again on February 25, to find the gravity at 1.020. This calculates out to 6.5% abv. In a few days, I will add the Simcoe hops for a few days of dry-hopping.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Burning Hills Cacao Stout Bottled

After 15 days in the secondary fermenter, my Burning Hills Cacao Stout was ready to bottle. Its gravity was unchanged since the transfer (1.026, from a starting gravity of 1.062), resulting in a final abv of 4.7%. The beer still has a smooth taste and mild chocolate finish (with a hint of vanilla), although the feel of the beer seems to have thinned just a touch since my last sampling. We'll see how that turns out when carbonated.

I transferred about 4.75 gallons of beer into the bottling bucket and primed the beer with 3.5 oz. (~2/3 cup) of corn sugar boiled in 2 cups of water. The yield was 43 12-oz. bottles and 3 22-oz. bottles.

One minor change with this session is that I attached the bottling wand to the bucket with a much shorter piece of tubing, rather than the 3 foot length I used previously. The result is that it is much easier to bottle, and I've eliminated the risk of accidentally getting the bottling wand on the floor.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Laurasia IPA

The new burner and kettle
The brewery has been radically reformed over the past few weeks. First was the move into a new (and expanded) brewing space. With that move pretty much completed, I decided it was time to up my brewing game and go full volume boil. Being off the kitchen stove certainly helped in this! I just acquired a new Blichmann floor standing burner--it's one of the low pressure propane burners, with a maximum output of 72,000 BTUs. Assembly was minimal and simple--perhaps 15 minutes with a wrench. To accompany that, I purchased a 10 gallon stainless steel kettle. As sold at my local homebrew shop, it didn't have any outlets. But, I was able to have them weld in a threaded coupler. I bought a ball valve and a hose barb, and the setup was complete!

As an inaugural brew, I decided to put together a fairly simple IPA recipe. This is a departure from my previous favorite, the Rainy Day IPA, particularly in having fewer steeping grains. According to some reading, I may have been using more crystal malt than is healthy for an IPA. So, I cut back on that quite a bit (only a half pound now!), and we'll see what happens.

Laurasia IPA

  • 8 oz. 40° crystal malt
  • 4 lbs. extra light liquid malt extract
  • 5 lbs. light dry malt extract
  • 3 oz. whole Cascade hops (bittering)
  • 1 oz. whole Cascade hops (aroma)
  • 2 oz. Simcoe hope pellets (dry hop)
  • 0.5 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. BRY-97 American West Coast dry yeast (Danstar)

Boiling the Laurasia IPA

  • Steep crystal malt for 30 minutes in 1 gallon of water at 152° to 156°; sparge with 0.5 gallon of water. Top up to 6 gallons volume total.
  • Bring to a boil, turn off heat. Add malt extract and bring back to a boil. Once the wort is boiling, add 3 oz. of Cascade hops.
  • After 45 minutes, add Irish moss.
  • Boil for a total of 1 hour. At flame-out, add 1 oz. whole Cascade hops (aroma).
  • Chill using wort chiller; this took approximately 45 minutes, during which time the aroma hops were steeping. The end temperature was approximately 70°.
  • Whirlpool, let sit for 15 minutes, and transfer to the primary fermenter. Pitch the rehydrated yeast, and seal up the fermenter.
  • After evaporation loss and trub loss, the recipe resulted in nearly precisely 5 gallons. Gravity was 1.068 at 66°, which translates to 1.069 at 60°. This is nearly a perfect match for the calculations from BeerSmith (1.070)!
  • After fermenting for a week, I plan to transfer this over to the secondary fermenter. There it will sit for another week, and I'll add the Simcoe hops for a week of dry hopping prior to bottling.
Venturi pump in action
Miscellaneous Comments
Back when I was doing partial volume boils, I oxygenated my wort by splashing in the water direct from the tap, usually with a spray nozzle. That's no longer an option (because I no longer need to top up), so I needed to try something different. I wasn't quite ready to spring for a pump and/or oxygen tank, and fortunately some looking online highlighted a much cheaper (and anecdotally just as effective) solution. It gets the fancy name of a "Venturi pump", but in practice it's simply a little nylon plastic t-junction in the middle of the tubing that the cooled wort runs through. This piece cost under $3 at the hardware store. It operates on a simple physical principle...because the junction is of smaller diameter than the rest of the tubing, the pressure in the wort drops as it passes through. Air is sucked in via the protruding side of the "t", and into the wort.

Contamination was a concern, but the reports online suggest this is only a very minor consideration. I presume that because the yeast is pitched immediately, any potential problems are outcompeted. The other minor quirk is that you want to hold your finger over the opening on the "t" while starting the flow of wort. Once there is a good flow, air is sucked in; if you release too soon, you will lose a bit of wort.

All in all, I was happy with this inaugural brew day for the new equipment. The burner heated the wort to boiling quite quickly--under 20 minutes! The kettle was easy to clean, and it was nice not having to mess with adding water and the like. I am curious to see how the beer tastes!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Burning Hills Cacao Stout Update

In the secondary
Today, after 8 days in the primary fermenter, I transferred the stout over to the secondary. Gravity reads 1.026 at 64°, which has a virtually negligible correction factor to 60° 1.026. Down from an original gravity of 1.062, this leaves around 4.7% abv at the moment. Assuming that the lactose in the recipe is almost completely unfermentable, I should be pretty close to final gravity with this one, judging by the calculations in BeerSmith.

Based on my tasting at the time of transfer, this is going to be an absolutely delicious stout. It is smooth and creamy, and I was pleasantly surprised to have a mild but distinct cocoa finish pop in a few seconds after each sip. However, it's also a "big" and hearty beer...I think I'm probably going to stick with almost exclusively 12-oz. bottles for this one. An 18- or 22-oz. pour would be just too filling to enjoy.

This transfer session is also notable as the first time I've used my "new" brewing setup in the garage. I finally got some time to swap out the old utility sink (which was covered in grease, old paint, and other grunge) and set up a re-purposed work bench. Just on this first run it is much more convenient than the kitchen counter!
The new brewery location...not in the kitchen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Burning Hills Cacao Stout

It has been a long time since I brewed up a stout from scratch (four years, to be precise), so it is high time to get back into that game. I've done a few just-add-malt-and-water kits, which turned out quite well, but I wanted a bit more of a challenge. I have been looking for something with some body, so a milk stout seemed like just the ticket. And I like chocolate milk, so some cocoa powder came into play too (baker's chocolate and the like have too much fat to brew well). The whole recipe is named to commemorate the unseasonably dry weather and associated brush fires...because why not?

I am excited to try a few new things with this recipe (which is a modification from several I found on-line). First, I've never brewed with lactose is supposed to give body without adding much in the way of fermentables, and the only slightly sweet taste of the powder seems consistent with that. I've also never brewed with cocoa powder; given the small amount, I don't expect a huge chocolaty flavor, but just a hint is what I am aiming for. Finally, I spotted a new dry yeast at my local home brew shop--BRY-97 American West Coast dry yeast from Danstar. Apparently it's only been out for a year or so, and this is the first time I've seen it stocked anywhere. Given the clean flavor profiles of the liquid West Coast Ale yeasts I've brewed with before, this seemed like a good match for my beer. If I have success, I might move the BRY-97 into regular rotation when I can get it.

Burning Hills Cacao Stout

  • 1.5 lbs. 80°L crystal malt
  • 0.25 lbs. black (patent) malt
  • 0.25 lbs. chocolate malt
  • 0.25 lbs. roasted barley
  • 6 lbs. dark dry malt extract
  • 1 lb. milk sugar (lactose)
  • 2 oz. Cascade hops (whole)
  • 1 oz. cocoa powder (Hershey's unsweetened)
  • 0.5 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1 pkg. BRY-97 American West Coast dry yeast (Danstar)


  • Steep grains in 6 quarts of water at 155-160°, for 45 minutes
  • Sparge grains with 2 quarts of water
  • Top up brew kettle to 4 gallons, bring to a boil. Turn off heat, add dry malt extract. Bring back to boil, add hops.
  • After 45 minutes, add Irish moss. After 55 minutes, add lactose. After 60 minutes, turn off heat and add cocoa powder.
  • Cool wort and transfer to fermenter. Top up to 5 gallons and pitch yeast (already rehydrated per package directions).
  • Starting gravity was 1.060 at 74°, which adjusts to 1.062 at 60°. 

Peter's Irish Red Ale Transferred

It has been 7 days since I brewed up Peter's Irish Red Ale, so it was time to transfer to the secondary fermenter. Gravity, adjusted to 60°, is 1.019. With a starting gravity of 1.034, this registers at about 2.1% abv. Hopefully we'll get a little more to ferment out over the next few weeks. The gravity right now is on the high side for what I expected...I usually get down to around 1.012 or 1.014 on other batches (and the Windsor yeast can surely do that!). Hopefully the transfer will kick-start the yeast back into action (if that's what they needed). I am somewhat regretting not putting Irish moss in, as the beer is exceptionally hazy right now; this is going to need a good few weeks to finish up, I think! In any case, the flavor is pretty good, so I think it will turn out OK in the end.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Peter's Irish Red Ale

My buddy Peter got me an Irish red ale kit from a brew shop up in San Francisco, and today we brewed it up. I modified it a little from the directions that came with the kit (primarily in the steeping volumes and top-off volume), to hit a slightly higher gravity than BeerSmith calculated for a 5 gallon batch. This is the first time in my memory that I've brewed with aromatic or Carafa malts, so I'll be curious to see how the flavor profile ends up. I also didn't do Irish moss on this recipe, so I expect it will have a little more chill haze than my usual batches (and the wort seems to foreshadow this).

Peter's Irish Red Ale

  • 1 lb. 8 oz. Maris Otter malt
  • 8 oz. 30°L crystal malt
  • 8 oz. barley flakes
  • 8 oz. aromatic malt
  • 8 oz. Carafa malt
  • 4 lbs. pilsen light dry malt extract
  • 0.5 oz. Kent Golding hops, 5.61% alpha acid (first addition, 60 minutes total)
  • 0.5 oz. Kent Golding hops, 5.61% alpha acid (second addition, 30 minutes total)
  • 1 oz. Kent Golding hops, 5.61% alpha acid (aroma, steep ~20 minutes)
  • 1 package Windsor dry yeast
  • Steep grains in 6 quarts water at ~155°, sparge with 2 quarts of water
  • Top up to 4 gallons, heat to boiling. Turn off heat, add dry malt extract.
  • Bring back to boiling, add hops. Boil for 30 minutes, add second addition and boil for another 30 minutes (60 minutes total).
  • Turn off heat, add aroma hops, cool with cooling coil.
  • Proof yeast in 2 cups of warm water.
  • Transfer wort to primary fermenter and top up to 4.67 gallons, add yeast.
  • The original gravity was 1.034 at 74°, which works out to 1.037 at 60°.
  • The beer is a touch outside of the style guide for Irish red ale, with a slightly darker color and slightly lower original gravity than in the "ideal". Nonetheless, this should be a tasty brew!